We are not in the deep south of America but I am finding that this southern area the US has a culture that is very different to ours at home.
We are in the region of the Appalachian Mountains. While endowed with abundant natural resources, this region of the USA has long struggled with poverty. In the early 20th century, large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s the region had failed to capitalise on any long-term benefits from these two industries. Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government sought to alleviate poverty here with a series of New Deal initiatives. In 1965 various other government initiatives tried to also alleviate poverty. Now, Appalachia has largely joined the economic mainstream, but still lags behind the rest of the USA in most economic indicators. The Median household income of a Sylva resident is $36,667 a year while the US average is $53,482 a year. Many people live at, or near, the poverty line.
As I said in an earlier post, the emergency doctor described the people here as rednecks, but really nice people. They are very conservative people and some still celebrate the role of the Confederates in American History. The sculpture outside the city library commemorates the brave deeds of confederate heroes and it is not uncommon to see large pick-up vehicles with the confederate signs on the bumper bar.
People here are very polite. I need to learn to call more people ‘Sir’ or Ma’am’. Out of respect, older people are addressed much more formally than at home. Jill is often addressed as ‘Miss Jill’ and apart from being called ‘Sir’ by everyone, I have also been addressed as ‘Mr Bruce’. Doctors are called by their title and surname, whilst at home we would just call them by their first name. However, I have received permission from Jill’s surgeon to call her Stephanie and her physician allows us to call her Doctor Kate. Heaven forbid that I should call her Katie.
Religion plays a big part in people’s lives here. Many people are God-Fearing folk. I was talking to a tall man named John in the hotel dining room the other morning about the reasons why I was in Sylva. When I told him about Jill, he immediately stood me up, put his hand on my shoulder and loudly prayed for me in the middle of the dining room while I was holding my cornflakes.
I think that I mentioned that my minister at home had written to the Pastor of the First Baptist Church here. I have never been so warmly welcomed anywhere as at this church. I attended their service today to celebrate All Saints Day and felt as if I already knew half the congregation. Five of their church members came to the hospital this afternoon to visit Jill.
The Anglican church lost all of its tax benefits after the War of Independence in 1776 and was abolished. Out of that arose the Episcopalian Church but the strongest churches in this area are the Baptists and the Methodists. I am extremely grateful for the folk of the First Baptist Church here, especially during the first few dark days when I was very anxious about Jill.
One pastor here explained to me that he is having the same issues as other churches around the world in holding the liberals and the conservative elements together. He says that the real problem is with the fundamentalist churches because they use their religion to influence power. There are many of them – mostly Pentecostal churches where someone has enough following from friends and relatives to form a small independent church. They use abortion and the importance of saving Jerusalem as key issues to impact American government policy.
People here are very kind. I was in a restaurant the other night and was asked, by a family who had finished their meal and were packing to to leave – “Why on earth are you in Sylva”. I explained about Jill and after they had left, the waitress came up to me and told me that my bill had already been taken care of. Tonight, when I went back to ’Speedys Pizza’ for dinner, the young woman at the door immediately asked how my wife was doing.
Patriotism is another thing here. I have been wearing my Vietnam unit cap on my head as I walk around. (After all, when you have no hair on your head, sun protection is important). I am frequently thanked for my service. This is a big deal here. On one occasion, I told the man who thanked me that I was actually an imposter because I was in the Australian Army. He said that didn’t matter – I was still a patriot as I had fought for freedom. I don’t really know why police, nurses, schoolteachers, firemen and anyone else are not also patriots but if you are returned serviceman here you are held in high esteem
Drivers here are very courteous, although I have found that right across America. They stick to the speed limit (within a little flexibility) stop at the stop signs and give way to pedestrians. I made my first driving mistake today where I went to turn left out of the supermarket and back onto the main road. There were two cars waiting to turn, so I sidled up to the left of one of them to exit as well. I immediately realised that I was in the entry lane and should have been behind the car to my right. The driver was extremely courteous and did what the drivers have done when I have confused them – just sat there and waited unto until I had moved on before doing anything themselves.
I see that people very rarely drink alcohol at lunch and often not at dinner. Sweet cold tea seems to be the drink of choice and they drink it by the pint!
Like other parts of America, the side dish of a salad is eaten before the main meal (the entree) rather than with it. The main meal is not brought out from the kitchen until the salad is finished.
I have no intention of suggesting that these differences are right to wrong – just a different view on things than we have at home.